Last month, five conservative legislators, spearheaded by Michele Bachmann, sent letters of alarm to the State, Defense, and Justice Departments as well as the Department of Homeland Security. One even made it to the Director of National Intelligence’s desk. These letters urged the recipients to believe that there is a significant Muslim Brotherhood presence among top-ranking Muslim U.S. officials that needs to be searched out, starting with individuals like Muslim-American Huma Abedin, longtime aide and deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton.
Bachmann’s letter to the State Department accuses Abedin’s mother, brother, and late father of having connections to “Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations,” and points out suspiciously Muslim-friendly actions that the State Department has recently taken. As many commentators have pointed out, there is no substantial evidence that Abedin has or has ever had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Congressman Keith Ellison called Bachmann’s “Muslim witch hunt” a “bizarre game of six degrees of separation.”
Voices have chimed in from all sides to call out Bachmann’s letters as discriminatory and ill-supported. In a powerful floor speech, Senator John McCain of Arizona condemned the accusations, saying that they “have no logic” and “need to stop.” Speaker of the House John Boehner concurred, calling Bachmann’s attacks “pretty dangerous.” Even Jon Stewart weighed in on how ludicrous the accusations are, pointing out that one could easily draw similar conclusions about Bachmann herself!
The Constitution explicitly states that ”no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office” in the United States. The very idea of questioning an American’s allegiance based on ethnicity or religion brings to the surface some of America’s darker history, such as Japanese-Americans being held in internment camps during World War II. There is something chillingly McCarthian about rounding up and investigating Muslim-American officials to test where their loyalties lie.
Bachmann’s actions are a direct threat to the livelihood, religious freedom, and very safety of the accused – Ms. Abedin is now being escorted by security after receiving threats against her life following the release of these letters.
But this type of religious prejudice not only affects the accused; it sets a broader tone for what is and is not acceptable in our society and creates a heightened sense of tension, uneasiness and distrust among all Americans who do not identify with the majority religion or ethnicity. It also denigrates the First Amendment, which protects all Americans regardless of religion. Our founders recognized that the separation of religion and government was the best guarantee of freedom for all Americans precisely because of reasons such as this.
In response to Bachmann’s unsupported claims, the Interfaith Alliance brought together 42 groups, including the Secular Coalition for America, to cosign a letter admonishing Bachmann and her compatriots for their serious violation of religious privacy and asserting that we “will continue to speak out in support of people of all faiths and no faith, and the religious freedom of all Americans to practice—or choose not to practice—a religion without fear of criticism or suspicion.”
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin had these wise words to say when asked about the whole Bachmann affair: “The First Amendment prohibits the government from making a distinction between what is a ‘good religion’ and what is a ‘bad religion’… Religion is a personal issue to every one of the people who lives in the United States, whether you practice a faith, how you practice a faith, whether you don’t practice a faith, whether you say you’re a member of a faith but don’t practice it, it’s none of the government’s business.”
It’s up to Americans of all backgrounds to stand up to religious persecution when we see it—whether the target is a Muslim or a nontheist. Casting suspicion on particular groups, based solely on religious affiliation (or lack thereof) is a direct affront to our Constitution. That, Ms. Bachmann, is un-American.